The annual death toll from Alzheimer's disease has increased exponentially over the last decade and a half, a new study reveals. The disease is now responsible for twice as many annual victims than in the early 2000s.
These findings are all the more alarming considering the expected increase in Alzheimer's prevalence during the next 30 years, as the Alzheimer's Association estimates 16 million people over 65 years of age could be diagnosed by 2050.
The report also cites Alzheimer's disease as the fifth leading cause of fatality among the elderly, ranking first in the top 10 terminal incurable illnesses for which there are no available means of prevention or curtailing progression.
With the nation's age demographic registering an increase in the old population, this type of dementia has now become the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
Possible Causes Of The Surge In Alzheimer's Deaths
According to Keith Fargo, Alzheimer's Association's director of scientific programs and outreach, the general supposition puts the inflated number of Alzheimer's-related fatalities down to the population's increased life expectancy. Although he admits that to be partially true, Fargo contradicts the growing assumption that Alzheimer's is inherent to old age.
"Most people do not get Alzheimer's, even if they live into their 80s or 90s. It's not normal," Fargo says.
Another reason why Alzheimer's has claimed twice the number of lives compared to 15 years ago may be related to the large amount of effort required to look after diagnosed patients, especially in the later stages of the disease.
Proving strenuous to caregivers, the struggle of tending to their loved ones' mental and physical decline leaves them facing their own health deterioration, as 35 percent experience a worsening of their state of well-being in the aftermath.
The report showed caregivers are now more affected by depression and anxiety than in the past. By comparison, only 19 percent of caretakers of elderly patients without dementia suffer the same problems.
Growing Efforts In Identifying Early Signs Of Alzheimer's
The last decade has brought substantial progress in monitoring the disease's onset, however. The Alzheimer's Association notes the illness' early signs are being better kept in check.
Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, the director of the Alzheimer's Disease Care, Research and Education Program at the University of Rochester, attributes this to the growing percentage of older people, as well as the "increasing awareness that AD is a lethal disease." The success seen in the treatment of other leading causes of death may have also played its part, he adds.
In the absence of viable Alzheimer's treatment options, the study suggests early diagnosis could give patients an extra fighting chance. Rapid detection of the disease, before symptoms set in, could help them make timely caregiving arrangements.
To this effect, the main objective for the future is closely monitoring biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease - all neurological signs that indicate changes in brain size, shifts in spinal fluid content, and the presence of nerve plaques.
"We believe that in the coming years we'll have tests that you can do in the doctor's office that will let you know your risk for Alzheimer's," says Fargo, who thinks this "could open the door for prevention."